Apples & Pears Retreat is one of England's top camps because it occupies a rarely taken spot in the boot camp market: it's always and only a mixed M/F venue; it's great value for money; and with capacity for only 14 'retreaters' at a time - one third below the national average of 20 per camp - it can afford you that more individual private attention. Duly, Apples & Pears is the only camp to include two 1:1 PT sessions, to dispense almost unheard-of celebratory champagne on the last night, to offer a slick CD of stills & movie, personalised to each guest - all of whom are invited into Katie's home at Xmas for the A&P Annual Christmas Party. Shunning the tacky path of roping in minor celebs for publicity , hardly ever in the media or bothering to advertise much, Apples & Pears, amazingly, has grown a successful business by sheer word of mouth. Trouble is the secret's out now, so if you like what you read, secure your place well ahead of time.
A&P's C18th Farmhouse is its greatest asset. You feel as if you are in someone's house, not an institution, as it rambles all comfy and homely, over three floors and a garden complete with a pool, sauna & jacuzzi complex - which they certainly make the most of. And I can tell you from experience - there's no better way to start the morning of a winter camp than loosening up your tired limbs and muscles in a warm swimming pool at a civilised hour. Certainly beats racing out the back door at 6am into freezing-cold darkness to join a military line-up and be shouted at. On summer camps, too, most mornings start in the pool.
Nestling peacefully in the heart of Thomas Hardy country, Apples & Pears Retreat is also right by the beaches and downs of Dorset's Unesco World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Only three boot camps in England offer coastal treks here, which is a pity, because these stunning, memorable and uplifting hikes are amongst the nation's finest.( And that, by the way, from a guy who's allergic to walking and would prefer to take a taxi to the bathroom if he could).
More than any other boot camp manager I've met, Katie Duncan is out there in the thick of it with you nearly all the time. Consequently, she knows the mood of the group. No chance here of that alienation which can occur when trainers and guests feel that the people issuing orders from the office are completely out of touch. Principal trainer, Duncan Godfrey, is up there with the very best: an ex-Harlequins, ex-Royal Marine Commando alpha male, with a gentle manner and looks the ladies like, who somehow gets you going that extra distance because you don't want to let him down.
Days are structured sensibly, with built-in time-off to recuperate your energy. There are too many camps that don't do this, just rushing you from one thing into the next. What's more, I suspect you'll lose more weight here than elsewhere because they're continually working on your body. Abseiling, for example, might be adventurous and character-building but it's not shifting any pounds, is it? As a result, I lost 11lbs. and 2" off my waist in only six days.
In common with most boot camps, the holistic aspect is not as strong as the physicalside, but it still does a worthwhile job. The food is very good, with imaginative variety in the snacks and unusual things like sparkling mineral water or venison appearing at the dining table. In fact, it's hard to find any significant criticisms of Apples & Pears Retreat - particularly when it has an ace up its sleeve with some of the best value-for-money prices in the country.
Written by Graeme Harwood.
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